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Moon, Regulus, and Jupiter

February 22, 2016

A bright star and an even brighter planet flank the full Moon tonight. Both of them lose a bit of their luster in the bright moonlight, but both are still easy to spot.

The trio is in good view by about 8 o’clock. The star Regulus, the heart of Leo, stands above the Moon, while the giant planet Jupiter is about the same distance to the lower left of the Moon.

Jupiter is the biggest planet in the solar system, so almost everything about it is over-sized: its mass, its storms, its entourage of moons. And it has the most powerful auroras in the solar system.

Auroras are curtains of light high in the sky. On Earth, they shimmer to life as charged particles from the Sun hit atoms of nitrogen and oxygen high in the atmosphere, causing them to glow.

For the most part, the auroras on Jupiter aren’t created by the Sun. Instead, they’re energized by particles from monster volcanoes on the moon Io. Some of the particles are swept up by Jupiter’s magnetic field. They’re funneled toward the planet’s magnetic poles, where they form giant rings in the upper atmosphere.

While most of the glow from the auroras on Earth is in the form of visible light, the auroras on Jupiter glow across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to X-rays. And they produce enough energy to power all the cities on Earth — an abundant supply of energy from curtains of light.

More about Jupiter and the Moon tomorrow.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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